Trying to come up with new and interesting ways of saying the same old thing is a skill that taxes most of us on a daily basis:  “I like your hair.”  “Your hair looks nice.”  “Wow!  Have you had your hair done?”  “That new style really suits you!”

For language learners, it’s obviously even more difficult.  For learners preparing for exam classes, where displaying a wide ranging linguistic resource helps garner improved scores – it’s an essential skill.  It’s useful for all those writing tasks (avoid using words or phrases from the questions) and particularly useful for CPE comprehension and summary tasks where the questions state “in your own words”.  But it’s also a handy skill to have for those speaking tasks, where demonstrating “range” is almost as important as actually having range.  After all, there’s no point learning all those different words and structures if you don’t actually use them?  Right?

So here’s an activity which needs no (only a very small amount) of preparation, but which helps extend and develop the paraphrase skill.  I call it “Say that again?”

Materials:  As much scrap A4 paper as you can find chopped down into either A6 or A7 sized slips – ideally it’d be about six bits of paper per student.

Students write a single (short) sentence on each bit of paper – ideally something they might say in everyday life.  You can model this with “I like your hair.”  or “Local football team played well/badly at the weekend.”  Students can work together in pairs during the sentence creation phase.

Collect all the slips of paper up and ask the learners to form small groups (three or four people per group).  re-distribute the slips of paper with the sentences on evenly between the groups, placed face down (i.e. sentences not visible) in a pile in the middle.

One learner takes a slip and turns it face up and reads the sentence.  They then have to produce a paraphrase of the sentence, as does the next person and the next etc, until someone can’t come up with something that hasn’t already been said.  So if we go back to our example:  Learner A turns over the slip of paper and reads out “I like your hair.”  Learner A paraphrases thusly:  “Your hair looks nice.”   Learner B comes up with “Wow!  Have you had your hair done?”  and Learner C with “That new style really suits you!”.  Learner D however can’t think of anything new, so gets to keep the slip of paper.

The winner is the person in each group with the fewest slips of paper at the end of the activity.

Feedback can be given on any errors that were overheard during the game, but also content feedback on any sentences they found particularly difficult to paraphrase.

As an extension, for those classes preparing for an exam, the teacher could take the input from one of the writing paper questions and divide it up into sentences on separate bits of paper and ask learners to come up with alternative phrasings.

“The candidate demonstrated an impressive range.”

(Bonus points for anyone who can identify the “impressive range” featured!  Post your answers below!)

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